CHINA’S MILITARY EXPANSION IS CRUCIAL TEST OF JAPAN’S POSTURE TOWARDS NATIONAL DEFENSE
The US Department of Defense (DoD) has released its annual report to the US Congress on military and security developments in China for 2018. Its content is solid and convincing, making one keenly aware that Japan is finally being made to face a crucial test of its posture towards national defense.
The important thing for one to bear in mind at this stage is where the line of thinking of the DoD and the National Security Council overlaps with, and differs from, that of President Donald Trump.
Needless to say, the President is the Supreme Commander of the US Forces. While congressional approval is ultimately required on some matters, the President has enormous authority to make many critical decisions on his own.
In the case of Donald Trump, one should view the great authority given him institutionally as being significantly increased due to his unorthodox personality.
Trump doesn’t rely on members of his cabinet or his aides for advice on critical decisions, often not even consulting with them. There is no guarantee that he will take seriously the proposals contained in the DoD report, which painstakingly analyzes China’s military threat and hammers out a fitting direction and strategy for the US to follow. Trump’s capricious behavior leaves Japan, which is heavily dependent on the US for its national security, in a precarious position.
At the outset of the report, the DoD notes that China is steadily forging ahead with its grand long-term strategy while effectively coping with its more immediate short-term problems. This is a notable point.
The report states that China has been going all out on a multi-layered offensive across the globe as it strives to achieve world hegemony, viewing the first two decades of the 21st century as a “period of strategic opportunity.” Never turn your eyes away from Beijing’s long-term strategy, the report warns.
China resorts to deceptive techniques in dealing with the US—and the world, for that matter. Even when exerting pressure on small and weak nations, China takes care to stop its offensive at the last minute in order to avoid butting heads with the US. While there is no doubt about its hunger for more power and world hegemony, China draws back from complete exposure of its imperial ambitions, adopting a package of softening measures such as the “One Belt, One Road” initiative. But it never fails to resume its offensive behind the scenes in due time.
China’s Plan to Increase Its Marines to 30,000 by 2020
The report details how China’s basic modus operandi is a repetition of this combination of hard and soft measures. It’s a strategy that utilizes pressure, intimidation, sweet talk, and economic assistance as a trap to seize whatever it desires. Xi Jinping’s administration has floridly publicized this strategy as “China’s Dream of national rejuvenation.”
While chanting slogans about building “win-win relationships” with the rest of the world and “a community of common destiny for mankind,” Xi has pushed ahead with rebuilding the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), including a structural reform aimed at making it the world’s strongest armed forces.
Coming to grips meticulously with the stunning buildup of China’s military capacity, the report issues a concrete warning against its predatory acts.
For instance, the DoD expects the size of the PLA’s Navy Marine Corps, currently believed to comprise about 20,000 troops, to grow to more than 30,000 by 2020. This fighting force will consist of seven brigades and expand its mission to include expeditionary operations on foreign soil. What foreign soil do the Chinese have in mind? Will it be Taiwan or the Senkaku Islands? The Chinese have already expressed their commitment to Taiwan and the Senkakus as core interests.
The report details the tensions over Taiwan and the Senkakus. As regards the latter, it notes: “During 2017, China maintained a presence in the Senkaku Islands usually with 4 China Coast Guard (CCG) ships, and entered within 12 nm of the islands an average of once every ten days with multiple CCG ships.”
The Chinese will be coming not only from the seas but from the skies as well. The Japan Air Self Defense Forces (JASDF) have been scrambling a rapidly increasing number of jet fighters to intercept Chinese aircraft approaching Japanese territorial air space. Some 55% of the JASDF jet fighters scrambled last year were chasing Chinese aircraft away. Lately, PLA bombers have been rampantly crisscrossing the air space between the main island of Okinawa and Miyako Island. Previously, a pair of JASDF jets was used for emergency interception flights against Chinese aircraft, but today four jets are deployed—proof that the territorial dispute between Tokyo and Beijing over the Senkakus is escalating.
Against such a backdrop, the Chinese marines will have grown three times their present size by the time of the Tokyo Olympics in 2020. The Chinese are after Taiwan for sure, but we must also assume that they will give similarly high priority to occupying the Senkakus.
Right before he assumed the presidency of China, in January 2013, Xi instructed the PLA to “prepare for war.” He then visited Russia in March and the US in June to make a case for the Senkakus as a China “core interest,” soliciting support from Vladimir Putin and Barak Obama. Xi’s obsession with seizing the Senkakus was brought into stark relief in his summit with Obama in California as he harped on China’s claim to the islands for a full one and a half hours. (Xi Jinping’s Tragedy by journalist Akio Yaita [Sankei Shimbun Publishing Co.; 2017])
In March this year, Japan established a 2,100-strong Amphibious Rapid Deployment Brigade (ARDB)—the Japanese version of marines—as part of an effort to counter increasing Chinese activity in the East China Sea and around the region. Their number is expected to increase to 3,000 by 2021, but this will hardly be a match for the Chinese marines.
Trump’s Incomprehensible Line of Thinking
And yet, today’s Japanese appear almost completely devoid of any real sense of impending danger in the East China Sea. Might it be because many of us are firmly convinced that the existing US-Japan alliance serves as a sure deterrence powerful enough to make China think twice about taking any military action against Japan? Or might it be because many Japanese expect US troops to readily rush to Japan’s aid in a contingency because of the close and harmonious relationship between our two countries under the existing US-Japan security arrangement? What is crucial under such circumstances, however, is understanding Trump’s seemingly incomprehensible line of thinking.
How does Trump, who has said Putin is not an “enemy” but a “competitor” and took to task NATO nations for not spending enough on national defense, view alliances in the first place? In what frame of mind did he prepare to enter the NATO summit in Brussels last month? There is a high penalty to pay for those who incorrectly interpret Trump’s thinking as regards these questions.
The New York Times in its August 10 edition (Rush to Protect NATO Accord against Trump) credited senior American national security officials with playing a critical role in securing a communique—later changed to a declaration—from the NATO summit just four weeks after Trump publicly abused Canadian Prime Minister Justine Trudeau and refused to sign off on the communique from the G7 summit in Quebec in June.
In an effort to prevent the NATO summit from becoming a repeat of the G7 disaster, Trump’s National Security Advisor Thomas Bolton acted swiftly, discussing with his NATO counterparts ways to complete the declaration before Trump left for Europe. In great haste, a “meaty” set of measures designed to strengthen the NATO forces was worked out and agreed on without Trump’s knowledge.
The pillar of the declaration, which constituted the true sign of America’s resolve, was the “Four 30s” initiative—the plan for 30 battalions, air squadrons and combat warships ready to respond within 30 days—slated to be implemented by 2020. All of the NATO member nations agreed to set concrete goals and start preparations immediately.
By completing the declaration before Trump’s arrival in Brussels, Bolton was instrumental in blocking any threats from Trump to withdraw from the alliance. This time, the 29 NATO members managed to come this far, avoiding the usual infighting over the summit agreement. But the fact still remains that the whole world is drifting aimlessly, unsure which direction to go.
Meanwhile, China’s desire for world hegemony remains unchanged. This means that we Japanese must do everything in our power to enhance our national defense capability with the speed and on a scale that we never could imagine before.
(Translated from “Renaissance Japan” column no. 816 in the August 30, 2018 issue of The Weekly Shincho)